It’s five days till Christmas. At breakfast, six-year-old Maggie Snodgrass asked her mother, “Mom, can we see Santa Claus today?”

“Okay, honey,” Mrs. Snodgrass answered. “Let’s go to the mall, do some Christmas shopping, and visit Santa Claus.”

Ten minutes later, Maggie and her mother were on their way to the mall. Mrs. Snodgrass turned left out of the neighborhood, then right onto the highway. Suddenly, she swerved left, and they felt a bump.

“What was that?” Maggie asked.

“It might have been a squirrel,” Mrs. Snodgrass said. “Don’t worry. We’re nearly at the mall.” But four minutes later, she noticed large orange signs that read “Caution Detour Ahead.”

“Mom, why are those big barrels in the road?” Maggie asked.

“Construction,” Mrs. Snodgrass grumbled as she merged into the left lane.

The detour was a winding route along the back roads. Mrs. Snodgrass had to turn right, then right again, then left up a hill, and left over a bridge. Over the railroad tracks, they came to a fork in the road. Mrs. Snodgrass saw cars turning right and going straight, but there was no detour sign. Trusting her instincts, she turned right. Soon, she was back on the road to the mall.

“We’re here! We’re here!” Maggie shouted as her mother turned right into the parking lot.

Mrs. Snodgrass found a parking space in the left-hand row. “Well that was an adventure,” she told Maggie. “But at least we made it.”

The warm air of the mall welcomed Maggie and her mother as soon as they stepped through its glass double doors. Silver and gold banners hung from the rafters. A row of Christmas trees wrapped in red ribbon divided the wide entranceway. Christmas carols played over the loud speakers.

“Let’s find Santa!” Maggie ran right toward the center of the mall.

“Wait, Maggie!” her mother called. “We should check the map first.”

Maggie stopped at the big mall map. She pointed at the right-hand side of the building. “There. Santa Claus Station. That has to be where he is.”

Mrs. Snodgrass looked at the stores around Santa Claus Station. “It’s right in front of Eely’s. And Slick Joe’s Electronics is on the way. Aren’t they having a sale?”

“Mom, I don’t want to be the last one left in line when the mall closes. C’mon!” Maggie pulled her mother away from the map and down toward Eely’s.

They made quick work weaving left and right through the crowd to reach Santa Claus Station. When they arrived, there was a line of eight children with their parents. “Oh good,” Mrs. Snodgrass said. “Looks like we won’t have to wait long.”

“Don’t get your hopes up, ma’am,” the father in front of them said. “We’ve been waiting ten minutes.”

“Ten minutes? Why?”

The father pointed up to the big wooden chair where Santa sits. He wasn’t there.

“Where’s Santa?” Maggie asked.

The boy at the front of the line tugged on the bright green tunic of Santa’s elf. “Miss Elf,” he asked, “when is Santa coming back from the bathroom?”

“I don’t know,” the elf answered. “Old people sometimes…”

A familiar laugh interrupted her. The children spun left and cheered, “Santa!”

“Merry Christmas, everyone!” Santa Claus greeted them. “Sorry for the wait.”

©2019 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.